What is causing the California drought?

Peter Sinclair has tackled this difficult topic with an excellent video and informative blog post. The blog post is here, and I've pasted the video below.

This is a complicated issue. The water problem in California is obviously made worse by increased demands from population growth and expansion of agriculture. Under "normal" (natural) conditions, California and the American Southwest is fairly dry and can undergo extra dry periods. But climate change seems to be playing a role here as well. It appears that recent lack of rain in the region is the result of changes in atmospheric circulation that can be linked to anthropogenic global warming. Warm air also increases evaporation and decreases snow pack. When rain falls it tends more often to be in the form of heavy downpours, and thus, more runoff (not to mention landslides).

Peter also talks about Jacob Sewall's model, ten years ago, that predicted the current situation as an outcome of reduced ice cover in the Arctic. Over at Significant Figures, Peter Gleick also talks about the California drought: Clarifying the Discussion about California Drought and Climate Change.

Photo Credit: Fikret Onal via Compfight cc


Other posts of interest:

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, which is also an alternative history of the Skeptics Movement.

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By Marvin Hill (not verified) on 17 Mar 2014 #permalink

I don't think it will work...

Even if it does, Greg, the amount of energy needed to pump so much water is likely as much as the whole of humanity needs today.

Just imagine: the world's oceans have a surface area of about 4*10^8 km^2 (3.6, but this is all going to be ball park estimates). In order to let the oceans drop by 1 meter, you would have to pump a volume of 4*10^5 km^3 away. That's 4*10^17 dm^3. In other words, 4*10^17 liters of water.

Some years ago the La Nina was so strong that a lot of water was dumped on land and remained there for a while, leading to a few mm drop in sea levels. There was torrential rain in several places, primarily the Southern Hemisphere. Just imagine what a factor 1000 extra will do with the water cycle. I think the cure will be a lot worse than the disease.

Won't work. You're neglecting the fact that as the water's salinity increases (you're pumping water in, but not removing the salt left behind by evaporation), it takes more and more energy to evaporate water molecules from the surface of your salt sea.

As the water gets warmer, it dissolves more salt (from the bottom), increasing salinity & working against you even more.

All that increases your pumping needs, requiring more energy to pump more sea water to overcome the increasing salinity -- further diminishing the returns on your evaporation scheme.

The nuclear power plants you'll have to commission to provide the energy to pump all that water uphill onto the continent is MUCH better spent performing direct desalination.

The only practical way to prevent the seas from rising and destroying all that coastal real estate is to keep it locked up in continental ice formations.

...which our petro-profiteers are madly working to melt away. You're on the losing end of that battle, too, sadly.

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 08 Sep 2014 #permalink

Pumping the water onto the surface of deserts won't work because of evaporation.

However, if it was put under ground, it would help. Unfortunately in many places there already is water underground, fresh water in aquifers that are being pumped out and then transported to the sea.

By daedalus2u (not verified) on 09 Sep 2014 #permalink

Thanks for Y'all's comments!!

Response to All: In regards to the energy cost. Based off what information!? These are non specific, non geographical arbitrary figures. Let me pose a question can you purchase a drought free earth? How much is the cost of one meter ocean rise? The answer to the first is obviously no. The end result is all that matters.

In regards to nuclear power plant suggestion: What is the most abundant thing in the desert other than sand?? That's right sun light!! Solar energy Will 100% power this project .

In regards to the aquifer comment: More Rain= More fresh water in aquifers.

In regards to rain fall/flooding you are referencing a regional event. I appreciate your input! I'm not suggesting flooding an area I'm saying that there will be meteorologist , biologists, geologist, scientists , et cetera. To coordinate the amount pumped to run hand in hand with evaporation rates . Would there be flood ? Absolutely it's going to happen. The end result is what's most important. They have mangroves that grow in salt water. Is engineering a ecosystem possible? Most importantly I Have Solved the problem for global sea level rise and global drought.

By Adrian Olmsted (not verified) on 09 Sep 2014 #permalink